US President Donald Trump defended his efforts to build a relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in an interview broadcast on Friday, saying they got along well but their conversations were “not always conciliatory”. The Republican president on Thursday invited Putin to Washington for a second meeting in the fall, defying a barrage of criticism in the United States that followed the two leaders’ first official summit on Monday in Helsinki.
What happened at that one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin with only interpreters present was not known, even to top officials and US lawmakers who said they had not been briefed. Trump said he and Putin, who US intelligence agencies say directed interference in the 2016 US presidential election, had a friendly rapport. “Look, the fact is we got along well,” he told CNBC in an interview that was recorded on Thursday.
However, he suggested the two did not agree on everything. “So I had a meeting that lasted for more than two hours. It wasn’t always conciliatory in that meeting,” Trump said, without elaborating. “We discussed lots of great things for both countries, frankly.”
Trump stunned the world by siding with Putin in Helsinki over the findings of US intelligence agencies that Moscow had conducted a hacking and influence operation designed to sway the 2016 White House race in Trump’s favor.
The president’s comments prompted top intelligence officials in his administration, as well as fellow Republican leaders in Congress, to reaffirm the findings that Russia had tried to influence American voters.
In a stark example of the gulf between Trump and his own advisers on Russia, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was caught by surprise at the news that Trump had invited Putin to Washington.
Coats learned of Trump’s decision at the same time as everyone else – when it was announced on Twitter by the White House while he was being interviewed at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “OK,” Coats said to laughter. “That’s going to be special.”